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Obituary for Councillor Theresa Fritz

Journalist and Councillor Theresa Fritz fondly remembered by friends, colleagues. Popular community leader died suddenly and unexpectedly on January 10th

BY JEFF MAGUIRE

Theresa Fritz was one of the most active people in the Carleton Place community. As a two-term member of Carleton Place Town Council she was a visible and very active presence in the town. She was involved in so many important aspects of community life.

Theresa was also a busy wife and mother and a dedicated member of the communications team at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in nearby Ottawa.

On Sunday, Jan. 10 her friends and colleagues were stunned to hear of Theresa’s sudden and unexpected passing. She succumbed to a massive heart attack at home, one week short of her 55th birthday.

A long-time journalist she spent much of her working career at the Carleton Place Canadian and Almonte Gazette community newspapers before launching a second media career as a highly respected reporter and editor at the EMC group of newspapers in Ottawa and the valley. Those newspapers were later purchased by Toronto-based Star-Metroland who continues to publish several community papers in Eastern Ontario including the local Carleton Place/Almonte Canadian-Gazette.

In the days following her death friends and family have rallied strongly in support of her husband Scott Robinson, 12-year-old son Shane and mother Irene along with sister Stephanie and her family.

At the instruction of Mayor Doug Black the flag atop the historic Town Hall and flags at all municipal facilities and installations were lowered to half-mast on Monday, Jan. 11 in tribute to Theresa.

Social media lit up with the sad news of her passing and the response from the community in general has deeply touched her grieving husband, son and family.

Shock and sadness has overwhelmed Theresa’s council colleagues, town staff and especially her circle of close friends and former newspaper colleagues who are all grieving her loss.

Everyone contacted was quick to pay tribute to the popular councillor’s many contributions to her adopted hometown of Carleton Place.

Mayor Doug Black spoke on behalf of council.

“Theresa was, above all things, passionate. She was passionate about her community, her work and especially her family. Her passion showed in how she respectfully and articulately spoke on items she felt were important to residents during council meetings, in her support of local businesses, in advocating for our local hospital or youth in the community and as a ‘Hockey Mom’ for her son Shane,” the mayor outlined.

Town came first

“Professionally I could always count on Theresa for an honest and forthright opinion and her resoluteness to stand up for what she believed was right, even if it wasn’t necessarily the popular opinion. She firmly believed in her responsibility to represent those who elected her and truly served at the will of the people. Every decision she made was with the community’s best interest at the forefront,” Black stated.

“Personally I will miss her advice, her friendship and her support. Theresa was an inspiration for anyone who dreamed of truly making a difference. I have no doubt that her impact on this community will be felt by generations to come,” the mayor concluded.     

Carleton Place Chief Administrative Officer Diane Smithson said, “Councillor Fritz was a hard-working, dedicated and caring councillor who always put the best interests of the community first in her decision making. She was able to succinctly, yet eloquently share her thoughts on a broad range of topics impacting the town.

“She was an excellent role model for women in politics and she quickly earned my respect and admiration. Her contributions at the council table and in the community in general will be greatly missed.”

After obtaining her journalism degree from Carleton University in Ottawa in 1989 Theresa began her long and distinguished journalism career the same year as a reporter-photographer at The Trentonian, the community newspaper in her mother Irene’s adopted hometown of Trenton.

In 1990 she accepted a reporter-photographer’s position at the Almonte Gazette. She moved to nearby Carleton Place where she had lived ever since.

Theresa’s strong work ethic saw her move up the ladder quickly. She soon transferred to the Gazette’s sister newspaper the Carleton Place Canadian where she served as news editor under the tutelage of managing editor Ryland Coyne.

She worked at the Canadian up until 2004. Theresa then crossed the street to take positions as a reporter and editor for first, the Smiths Falls-based EMC and, when the firm was sold, she joined Metroland Media. The Toronto company operated numerous papers in Ottawa and across the Ottawa Valley.

In 2006 Theresa married Scott Robinson in an outdoor ceremony at the home they had purchased on Lake Ave. E. in Carleton Place. In April 2008 their son Shane was born, something that thrilled the couple.

Former Metroland colleague and friend Sabine Gibbins recalls visiting Theresa in hospital the day after Shane’s birth.

“She was sitting up in bed holding the baby and she was just beaming. She said ‘Do you believe this’ nodding to little Shane,” she commented.

Over the years Theresa became a senior member of Metroland’s editorial team and as managing editor she had responsibility for the news operations at several of the company’s Ottawa and area newspapers.

Ryland Coyne, who is the current editor-in-chief for all of the Metroland Media Group papers in Eastern Ontario, offered his thoughts about his late colleague and friend.

“When I hired Theresa back in 1990 I could tell right away that she was made for community news. She really had a passion for it and loved getting readers the information that affected them, news they would not get anywhere else. It was never just a job, it was a calling, Theresa told me,” Coyne noted.

Dedicated journalist

“The work of a community journalist is multi-faceted: interviewing, reporting, photography, layout. And Theresa excelled at all of them. She never questioned the long hours it took to get the job done and there were often some very long days. She just thrived on meeting people, reporting their stories and getting them printed in the paper each week,” the long-time newspaper man explained.

“As great a reporter and editor as she was, Theresa was an even better friend. She had a wonderful sense of humour and an infectious laugh. We would drive down to Toronto together to regular editors’ meetings and the conversation never lagged. You could talk to her about just about anything – politics, sports, her favourite concerts and especially her family. Before you knew it several hours had gone by and there was still more to talk about.

“She was a special individual, devoted to her job, her community and her family. She will be missed tremendously by so many,” Coyne remarked.  

During her 30 years in the newspaper business Theresa had a major impact as a reporter and editor with several community newspapers across Eastern Ontario. After a quarter century in the business she was presented with the prestigious ‘Silver Quill Award’ by the Ontario Community Newspapers Association (OCNA). The honour, for 25 years of outstanding service to the community newspaper industry in Ontario, goes only to a select number of individuals who must be nominated for the award.

A number of former colleagues spoke to me about her influence on their lives.

Good friend Marla Dowdall, a former EMC and Metroland colleague, was among many of Theresa’s former co-workers to express their feelings in the wake of her passing.

“Theresa’s ability to maintain balance in her life while working full-time, helping to raise her son and giving back to her community was admirable. She was a wonderful wife and mother, a talented and devoted colleague and a loyal friend.

“Personally speaking, Theresa was the best kind of friend a person could ask for. She helped bolster my confidence professionally, providing guidance during many difficult situations. She was very much a role model for me. Outside of work she also helped lift my self-esteem and provided support that helped me through some tough times,” Dowdall recalled.

“Theresa had a powerful presence, endless enthusiasm and a real vivaciousness. She was confident, genuine and she was also a lot of fun,” Dowdall, her long-time friend, stated.  

Former Carleton Place Canadian advertising representative Liz Golder-Wall, who is retired and recently moved to Newfoundland (her partner Ron LeDrew’s home province) reached out from her current home in Botwood, Nfld. to comment on her friend’s untimely death.

“I first met Theresa when I transferred to The Canadian in 1991. We soon developed a bond – two strong-willed women who shared many of the same interests. We worked hard but we also enjoyed laughing and having fun,” Wall noted. “We even locked horns a few times but we always came out on the right side – true friends.

“Theresa was one of the most organized, knowledgeable, dedicated women I have ever known, with a memory like no other. She could remember details from an event that happened one, five or even 15 years before. I loved all that about her,” Wall stated.

With newspapers in general under growing pressure from social media sites, in 2018 Theresa opted to make a career change. She took a position as senior business analyst at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Midway through last year she accepted a secondment to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency where she worked as a media relations officer. She was asked to take that position permanently, a request she accepted later in 2020.  

Council success

In 2014 Theresa’s long standing, strong interest in community affairs prompted her to run for a position as a Carleton Place town councillor. She was elected and in the fall of 2018 she was easily re-elected, leading the polls for councillor positions.

She was a long-time community volunteer serving with multiple organizations in Carleton Place and Lanark County.

Carleton Place and District Memorial Hospital (CPDMH) was particularly near and dear to her. Theresa served as a member of the hospital foundation, the agency responsible for raising funds to equip and operate the facility. During the week following her death the flag in front of CPDMH flew at half-mast.

She also served as a board member for Lanark County Interval House and Community Support, the Carleton Place and District Youth Centre and the United Way of Lanark County. As a councillor she chose to serve as a member of the board of directors of the Carleton Place Business Improvement Association and the Carleton Place Sister City Committee. The Sister City group oversees the town’s twinning relationships with the village of Comrie in Perthshire, Scotland and the city of Franklin, Tennessee near Nashville.

Theresa was also a member of the Carleton Place Minor Hockey Association (CPMHA) board and was the current association secretary. She was a huge booster of local sports including baseball in the summer months. In her personal life Theresa and husband Scott were devoted followers of local minor hockey where son Shane has played as a goaltender for several seasons.

Good friend Kyle McKittrick, who coached Shane’s hockey teams for half a dozen seasons and worked with Theresa on the CPMHA, said Theresa’s interest in minor hockey and community activities in general, was second to none.

“The association will really miss her involvement. She was a beacon of light everywhere she went,” McKittrick remarked.

He said that through minor hockey they developed a personal friendship. He also golfed on Wednesday nights with Theresa’s husband Scott during the season. “We (he and his family) Theresa and Scott were all great friends. But she was also someone I could use as a sounding board at any time.

“She deserved so much more,” he said sadly.

Among those who will miss Theresa the most are the Warren family of Carleton Place who are the closest friends of the Robinson-Fritz family. Allison and Mark Warren and their son Andrew, who is a school and hockey friend of Shane’s, spent more time with Theresa, Scott and Shane in recent years than anyone. The families camped together and travelled together, including two memorable trips to Allison’s home province of Newfoundland.

“We knew Theresa as a Mom, wife and friend. We were privileged to call them (family) good friends,” an emotional Warren said. “This is so difficult – we did everything together.

“Theresa and I used to say we ‘are co-parenting our sons’ because the first person home on hockey nights fed the kids and got them to the rink,” she outlined. “We operated seamlessly.

“Theresa was Andrew’s other mother. He could talk to her about anything,” Warren stressed.

“We had so much fun travelling together. My husband Mark and Theresa co-organized our trips and Theresa did up an itinerary which we followed exactly. On one of our visits to Newfoundland Theresa was the photographer at my sister’s wedding in St. John’s.

“We also loved trailer camping together. Shane loves the outdoors – fishing and spending time with Andrew. They are great friends,” Warren stated.

Speaking about Theresa’s professional side Warren said that her knowledge, her organizational skills and her public speaking skill are things that will always stand out for her. “She was just so dedicated to everything she did.

“We are going to miss her so terribly. This is a nightmare for us,” she concluded.

Theresa was born in Montreal on Jan. 17, 1966 the first child of the late Szilard Fritz and his wife Irene. Her early education, including learning French, happened in Montreal. Her bilingualism would ultimately prove to be important in her work with the federal civil service.

The family later moved to Brighton, Ontario before settling in Trenton. Theresa attended Carleton University in Ottawa and upon graduation from the Journalism Program she returned to Trenton to work briefly at the local newspaper before moving to Carleton Place where she lived for 30 years.

Theresa Marie Fritz was the loving wife of Scott Robinson and the cherished mother of Shane Robinson. Survived by her mother Irene. Predeceased by her father Szilard. Dear sister of Stephanie (Brian Poser). Proud “TT” of Matthew and Katherine Poser.

A private funeral mass will take place at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Carleton Place. Interment will be in the spring at Torbolton Cemetery. For those who wish, a donation to the Carleton Place Hospital Foundation or a charity of your choice would be appreciated by the family.

Arrangements are entrusted to the Alan R. Barker Funeral Home, Carleton Place. 

CLOSING NOTE: Jeff Maguire, who wrote this article, served as the editor and publisher of both the Carleton Place Canadian and Almonte Gazette community newspapers for 28 years. He was managing the papers when Theresa joined the staff in 1990. Beginning in 2004 Jeff and Theresa teamed to work for the EMC in the Carleton Place-Almonte market. Besides being colleagues they also developed a strong friendship. They interacted regularly with each other’s spouses, families and mutual friends. Jeff says, “Theresa’s loss is devastating to me, my wife Kathleen and our family! We extend our sincere condolences to Scott, Shane, Irene, Stephanie – all of her family members and friends.”